Introduction: Plague Doctor's Hat

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The plague doctor's wide brimmed hat was worn as an indicator of their profession, in case the bird mask and black cloak weren't enough I suppose.

I made the hat as part of a Halloween costume for a Victorian Ball themed party. Now, it may be true that the black plague was gone long before the Victorian period began.

( It's completely true. I was not dressed for the right period.)

Step 1: Tools and Materials

I made my hat from

Black Felt

Corrugated Cardboard, to stiffen the top of the hat

Jewelery Wire, to give the brim its shape

Black Thread, to hold the hat together

and Solder, to hold the wire together

And I used

A sewing needle

A sewing machine

A blowtorch

A box cutter


and used measurements and construction techniques from Tom Banwell Designs

Step 2: Ellipses

Not ...; the shape.

The top of the hat, the brim of the hat, and to a good approximation my head (and yours) are ellipses. In order to make this hat, we'll need to know a little about them.

First, calculating the circumference of an ellipse is not as easy as πD. There are approximations and iterative methods, but if you type "ellipse circumference" into google, a circumference calculator will pop up to do the work for you.

Second, to draw an ellipse:

1. Choose lengths for the major and minor axes (height and width, or length and width if that's more your thing) and draw them out perpendicular to one another

2. Measure half of your major axis, then draw a line of that length from the end of the minor axis to the major axis. Where the lines touch is a focal point. (There are two focal points)

3. Get a piece of string the same length as the major axis. Affix the ends of the string to your focal points; the slack in the string will allow you to draw the ellipse.

4. Hold the string taut against the paper with a pen or pencil, and trace the length of the string. Do this on both sides of the major axis.

5. You have an ellipse! I thought this process was really cool.

Step 3: The Brim

I wasn't able to find much information about the plague doctor's hat and almost no information regarding the historical facts of the outfit. It seems that it's much more popular as a costume than a piece of history, but how was I supposed to find out how big the hats were! How wide can the brim be before it hits people near me in a crowd? How thin can the brim be before it turns into a small tophat?

Luckily Tom Banwell has experimented with different sizes and was nice enough to share the information online.

His brim is an ellipse with a major axis of 16.25", a minor axis of 15", and a circumference of 49.11". I don't have anything large enough to draw such an ellipse on, but we don't actually need to draw this ellipse, we just need to make it out of wire. The wire holds the fabric taut, holding the brim up and keeping it flat.

I recommend taking a thick, sturdy, springy wire 49" long and bending it into an ellipse. Then bending it to your desired shape.

However, I didn't have such a wire. Instead it's possible to use multiple turns of a smaller gauge of wire. The more turns used, the more strength it has and the better the brim will hold its shape.

I used 6 turns of wire around a trash can with a 46" perimeter. The loops were held together with tape, then secured with solder using a blowtorch. Make sure you like the size and shape of your brim before you make it permanent.

TL;DR. Make a loop of thick wire with a perimeter of 46"

Step 4: The Top

The top of the hat is made from two pieces of fabric and a piece of cardboard.

1. Cut out a rectangular strip of fleece 25" by 4.5". This is the cylinder on the hat.

2. Sew the short ends of the strip together making a 4.5" tall cylinder; leave 0.25" at the top disconnected.

I wanted this part of the hat to have a slight concavity to it instead of the straight vertical-walled look of a tophat, so I sewed this piece with a larger overlap in the middle than at the edges. This way, the perimeter in the middle is smaller than the perimeter at the top and bottom. This curvature will be most noticeable at the seam. Remember, fleece stretches! (and more in one direction than the other)

3. Draw an ellipse on a piece of corrugated cardboard. 9.25" major axis, 7.5" minor axis. This is the top of the hat.

4. Cut out the ellipse

5. Cut out a piece of fleece the same size

6. Sew the ellipse to the top of the cylinder. I folded the top 0.25" of the cylinder over the ellipse.

7. Shove the cardboard in there for structure!

Step 5: The Brim, Again!

1. Adjust the wire support to your desired shape. I went with a slight ellipse.

2. Cut out a piece of fleece larger than the wire, with at least 1" of excess on all sides.

3. Draw an ellipse with a major axis of 8" and a minor axis of 6.25" then cut it out. This is for the hole that goes over your head.

4. Size your ellipse! This should fit comfortably, but snugly on your head. Fleece stretches a good bit so it's better to be a little on the small side than on the large.

5. Center the ellipse on the piece of fabric you cut out, and cut an ellipse sized hole.

6. Now grab the top piece you made in the last step and sew it onto the brim. Try not to stretch the pieces as you sew the seam, you'll want the ellipses to line up. I chose to sew this with the top of the hat resting on top of the brim material.

Step 6: Adding the Support

1. Flip your hat upside down and smooth it out as much as possible. The hole for your head should be facing up.

2. Center the wire support on the fabric, then begin affixing the fabric to it at various points. This will maintain the shape you want while you sew in the wire. You will likely find this especially helpful because the fabric stretches, and we need the brim taut in order to support itself.

I picked two points on opposite sides of the support, stretched the fabric along that direction, and used one or two loops of thread to tie the fabric to the wire. It took me a bit of adjusting to get the stretch equal on both sides.

The tighter you stretch the fabric the stiffer the brim will be, but it doesn't take much. The tightness from front-to-back compared to the tightness from side-to-side also determines the shape of the brim.

3. Once you have enough points sewed that the brim holds its shape, fold over the excess and sew in the wire. Before sewing you should be able to pick the hat up by its top without the brim sagging.

4. Cut off any excess.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Hat

You're finished now! And while I can't tell you how to enjoy your hat, I can suggest you wear it in public and avoid going near actual plague victims.

Have fun!

Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2015